Sunday, January 25, 2009

The ideological purpose of the crime tax

I didn't expect to be writing this much about proposed legislation, but it turns out they're excellent ways of illustrating the role of the justice system in our society. Needless to say I think the $50 crime tax, a ridiculous, regressive idea. A lot of the policy arguments are discussed over at the hand mirror. I want to think about this idea a little bit differently.

Louise Nicholas only received normal witness costs for the trials. This didn't cover her support people, or her travel to court outside of the days she was testifying. I'm not denying that the current system is completely inadequate. At the moment large costs, which are the direct result of someone being victimised are borne individually.

However, the current proposal asks 'who should pay?' and answers 'the criminals'.

In 2006, there were almost 4,000 convictions for serious violent crime; there were over 200,000 convictions for any crime.*

This fine reinforces the idea that criminals are a class, and elides over the fact that the acts that we are most scared of, the acts that ruin people's lives, are a very tiny minority of the acts that get criminalised.

The prison system, and the justice system as a whole can only be justified and maintained if it's true nature and role is avoided. As long as the line between 'criminals' and 'citizens' can be maintained as an 'us' and 'them'. The ideological purpose of this tax is to reinforce that division.

* Statistics from Ministry of Justice. My definition of serious violent crime is a lay persons one not a legal one. I included murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, all sexual assaults, and grevious bodily harm. It won't necessarily reflect the boundaries of this scheme, but it does reflect the sorts of examples that have been discussed in the media.

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